I had the joy of praying with the Immanuel Lutheran community for Ash Wednesday. Here is Pastor Paul Nelson’s reflection on the Gospel and the day.
Tonight, we begin our journey of reflection and repentance called Lent, a time to contemplate our daily discipleship more deeply, be honest about how we fall in sin and selfishness, and in repentance invite our Lord to help us grow in our walk of faith. We have some direction that will help guide our journey this lent, a focus for our contemplation inspired by this year’s 500th anniversary of the reformation, and that focus is part of the heart of Luther’s teaching, part of the heart of our faith, the small catechism. And the small catechism really does focus on the heart of our faith, including the commandments, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, baptism, and communion. These are the core words and beliefs and practices that shape our Christian faith, and are designed to be the framework for our lives, the words and practices that define and shape our lives as people of faith
And so it is fitting that we begin this night, this Ash Wednesday, with a question that Luther himself loved to ask, to wrestle with. This is the question that gives shape to the small catechism, and some of you may remember it, having to memorize it for confirmation at some point in your life. As Luther ponders each part of faith, Commandments, Creed, Lord’s prayer, baptism, communion, over and over he asks the same question, and then strives to answer that question. Remember the question? What does this mean.
What a Good question for tonight, what a good question with which to begin lent, what does this mean. What does this night, the sign of the cross on our foreheads in ash, the season of lent, all of it, what does this mean?
To answer, let me repeat those one more our words of preparation, the meaning of all this is to help us make this journey of reflection and repentance, where we take time to contemplate our daily discipleship more deeply, be honest about how we fall in sin and selfishness, and in repentance invite our Lord to help us grow in our walk of faith. Part of how we do this is these Wednesday night worship services, where we are intentionally taking more time for God, attending to our faith, finding encouragement and comfort in one another. Some of us may give something up in this season of lent, and let me give a reminder of why we may give something up for lent.
First let me again be clear of what giving up something for lent is not about. This is not about making a sacrifice, or practicing a discipline in hopes of earning a reward, you know, as if the bigger the sacrifice you made for lent, the more you missed whatever it was you gave up, the more holy points you somehow earned. When my siblings and I were little, if the family had to travel any distance in the car, my parents liked to have us play the quiet game, you know what the quiet game is, see who can go the longest without making a sound. The winner would get a little prize. Give up making noise, get a prize, That’s not what giving up something for lent is for, it’s not about earning a reward. Giving up something for lent is a devotional practice. As Lent is a time to refocus our lives on Jesus, on our walk of faith, giving up something can help remind us of our Christian priorities, of what really matters, and at the same time, remove some of the distractions in our lives, or remind us of the things that don’t really add to our lives. And Lent is not only an occasion for giving something up, we can also add more intentional prayer time in our day, a renewed commitment to devotional time, or to caring conversation with family or friends, whatever help us, again, contemplate our daily discipleship more deeply, be honest about how we fall in sin and selfishness, and in repentance, invite our Lord to help us grow in our walk of faith.
Why is this so important for us? This time of repentance and renewal? Because the world is noisy, full of all kinds of temptations that clamor for our attention, and we need quiet time to turn down those voices and listen for where God is calling us, this is important because the world is troubled, world is scary, and we need to be renewed in faith that pushes back against those fears. This is important because life is hard, complicated, and sometimes we just need to be reminded of how much we are loved just as we are. Isn’t that good to remember, to proclaim again to each other, you are loved, just as you are, good news huh. And lent is important because temptations are real, we so easily lose our way, get distracted, side tracked, outright fooled and fall in sin, and we need forgiveness that finds us, picks us up, and sets us back on the right path.
Which is why the first words of small catechism are the perfect place to begin our Lenten Journey, calling us back to what is good, right, true, reminding us of our sure and certain hope in this world and the next, our true light, our salvation
First words, I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? Luther says it means we are to fear, love, and trust God above all other things. There is a song that servant song for our Sunday 10:45 worship that sums this up nicely, Jesus at the center of it all. Jesus at the center of it all From beginning to the end It will always be, it’s always been You Jesus. Jesus at the center of it all. What does this mean? That Jesus is the focus of our lives, faith is the motivating force that influences everything else. And when we live by faith, when Jesus is at the center, we know joy and experience contentment, and we are that gift of love to others that God means for us to be.
Jesus at the center of is all, well, that’s our hope, our goal, but as I said there is so much that gets in the way of that isn’t there, so much that competes to be at the center of our attention, focus, worry, all that noise and busyness of daily life, and all those troubles and temptations, those difficulties and distractions. And so our lives get chaotic, and messy, and out of sorts, and sad, and disappointing, and scary, and painful, and broken.
Which is why it is so good to be together tonight, why lent is such a gift. We need this time to reflect, repent, and be renewed. To once again come together and encourage one another in our resolve at putting Jesus at the center of every part of our lives, because faith isn’t some separate piece of life, one interest among many, competing for our time and attention, disconnected from the other parts of our lives. Faith is the common thread that weaves it’s way through every part of our lives and inspires and instructs us in all we do, being family, friends, the person we are at work or play, faith informs it all, Jesus is at the center of it all. As we begin our Lenten journey tonight, as the cross of Christ is imposed in ash on each of us, may all that we do help Jesus find the center of our hearts, and fill us with renewed faith, hope, and love. Amen